When screenwriter Paolo moves to a remote area of Connecticut to focus on his work, he’s not prepared to find love in the form of a vampire.
Kiss of the Damned is the 2012 vampire flick directed by Xan Cassavetes starring Josephine de La Baume as Djuna, Roxane Mesquida as Mimi, Milo Ventimiglia as Paolo, Anna Mouglalis as Xenia, and Riley Keough as Anne.
The first thing you feel when you’re watching Kiss of the Damned is a sense of fragmentation, of dislocation. The style of film making adapted by writer/director Xan Cassavetes is reminiscent of films from the late 60s and 70s where quick cuts and economical editing were the norm. If you’re not of a fan, consider this your out. Kiss of the Damned is not for you.
For me, Kiss of the Damned is a welcome change from the high gloss, high budget – low substance films I’ve consumed as of late. Sure, everything you know and love about vampire mythology is here: their tendencies, their strengths and weaknesses. There is brutality and seduction. There’s neck biting and late night feedings in the woods. And, if that isn’t enough to whet your appetite – there are vampire orgies, too!
Cassavetes has drawn on inspiration found in older European films in the genre like Daughters of Darkness (one of my faves) to construct a world in which vampires remain cloaked in secrecy, attempting to leave their human-blood-sucking reputations behind them.
The result is a somber quality in Cassavetes vampires, one that is equally as seductive as it is dangerously patient; like a predator who – thanks to experience – knows all that is required of it is to wait.
What’s interesting about Cassavetes script is not the once-in-a-lifetime sort of romance that buds between Djuna and Paolo. I found this aspect of the story a little mundane and pedestrian despite the chemistry between Ventimiglia and de La Baume. Rather, it’s the importance Djuna places on finding a meaning to life, a reason to continue on through the expanse of eternity, that projects Kiss of the Damned to the near-top of my best-of vampire flicks list. Well, that and its soundtrack.
Bold and confrontational, Kiss of the Damned has a score by Steven Hufsteter that is as large and important as its cast of characters. Instrumental, rock, electronica all combine to create a sound that is as retro and unique as the film itself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the soundtrack will be made available for download or purchase.
Made on a shoestring indie film budget, and released as a video on demand in services like Amazon and iTunes, Kiss of the Damned proves what can be done when the vision of the filmmakers is as strong as Cassavetes. In Kiss of the Damned she has created a stylish, high-goth vampire film that feels new and yet vintage. As I was watching it, I couldn’t let go of the feeling that this film could become a cult classic. In fact, I’ve already pre-ordered the film on DVD. But, I digress.
There are downsides to the story. The major conflict arrives in the package of Djuna’s little sister, Mimi, a vampire who refuses to quell her appetite for human blood. Leaving a string of corpses in her wake, she arrives at Djuna’s doorstep and begins to raise all kinds of mischief. She continues to indiscriminately kill humans, sure, but she also shimmies her way into Paolo’s pants creating a rift in the family.
As the only major tension in the film, this is the weak point. Of course the vampires in the film are perpetually faced with the dilemma of living forever, of finding ways to stay alive, but they have caretakers and synthetic blood, homes with protective devices to keep them safe, and infinite resources. It’s almost too easy for the characters in Kiss of the Damned.
It’s my only real gripe about the film.
Milo Ventimiglia, who stars as the screenwriter sent to the countryside to focus on his work by his scumbag agent (Michael Rappaport), projects a steady, focused calm. He is in complete control in the role as the singularly obsessed Paolo who will stop at nothing until he has Djuna.
Watch for newcomer Riley Keough (Jack and Diane, Magic Mike), who is Anne – a young virgin befriended by Mimi and brought as a sacrifice/bribe to the sorta-head-vampire, Xenia. The part is small but pivotal to the subplots of Kiss of the Damned.
Retro in nature but strangely fresh, Xan Cassavetes Kiss of the Damned will delight fans of the vintage vampire horror genre and remind them why they started liking vampires in the first place.